ArtSummer of Blacker LoveWe See You
#afropunkweseeyou: thugpop embraces the ethereal and explicit
By Myles E. Johnson
June 20, 2019
If Black gay men had a slogan it would most likely be Joseph Beam’s quote: “Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act.” It’s a phrase that has gone to live inside the work of legendary Black gay artist Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied, and has been discussed further in many pieces of literature — and a lot of public discourses that center Black gay manhood.
ThugPop initially grabbed my attention due to his using of the Beam quote in his work — it appears on a throw pillow that feels like a slice of fine art you can have in your home or in your boudoir — but he kept my attention with his use of the digital, internet space as his gallery space. It felt familiarly radical to see, yet again, another young brilliant Black gay man takes a medium — in this case, the internet — and elevates it. Politicizes it. Eroticizes it in a way that resonates with him. To put it simply, ThugPop takes the medium and owns it.
His name is ThugPop, but it’s the humanizing and eroticizing of the Black man that makes it stimulating. It’s the work — collages, video, and the use of other unexpected materials — that strives to find the soul in things once only considered shallow, pornographic, and disposable.
AFROPUNK spoke to the artist and it turns out ThugPop is just as brilliant, innovative and soulful as the work.
What’s your relationship with the explicit as it concerns your work?
One of the first times I remember finding niggas that looked like me was on a porn site called thugboy.com, which is dark! There’s something to say about going to porn to feel identified within the world. I’m referencing that fact within my explicit works, especially in my collage work. I intentionally use nostalgic materials and colors to play with immaturity of this experience. I also reference being a survivor of sexual assault within my explicit work. I use these dark life experiences and create beautiful erotic contextual work. To bare it all on the canvas has been truly cathartic for me however. Whenever one does see my explicit work, I hope they understand the intention is not to exploit but to embrace the Black male body and all of its glory.
Your work intentionally highlights the work of gay Black men like Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill, why did you choose this direction?
I want to honor the legacy of the great artists who opened the door for me! Their work has helped me empathize with my own experiences as a Black gay man in America. I’m indebted to them forever. Marlon Riggs, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, and Essex Hemphill, I thank each and every one of them for helping me love my complexities through their artistry.
When someone purchases your work, what do you want them to know about the intention?
The buyer must know, all my work is covered in self-love. My intention is to create an avenue for them to usher in their own spirit of self-love. Each ThugPop Object, is purposeful and meant to create comfort and peace. I always write a little note just so they know how much it means to me that they bought my work. That I made my work with self-love and with my hard-earned money! It wasn’t until I embraced my own complexities and flexed the love that I have for myself until I gained the strength to pursue my artistry. With that being said, I wish for all patrons and viewers, to share in that love of selves. A new understanding to appreciate one’s own existence is my goal, whether it be with an object or an art piece.
Who are some of your other visual inspirations?
The list is vast! But to keep it cute; Sailor Moon, Deafman Glance, The Royal Tenenbaums, Mickalene Thomas, Sterling Ruby, and Solange are some of my greatest inspirations visually. I also repurpose Bob Mizer a lot in my work. His foundation actually sent me a cease and desist letter, regarding my tapestries! I’ve been looking at hotep propaganda recently which has led me to fantasize what a gay Black militia would look and sound like. The band Standing On The Corner has the best website hands down right now. I’ve also been looking at Richard Gallo for inspiration for my own performance art.
What are you listening to when you are creating?
It depends on what I’m creating; collages I listen to angst shit like Hole’s Live Through This album or Delroy Edward’s music. When I’m conceptualizing new objects, I play Solange’s When I Get Home or Yves Tumor. When I’m shooting, I have to play an album I can play all the way through because I shoot everything on my phone, I’ll play Rihanna’s Anti, Playboi Carti’s Die Lit, or Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe. But I hold Kelis’ discography, Lonnie Liston Smith’s Dreams Of Tomorrow and Andre 3000’s The Love Below very close to my heart though.
Black queer artists are often overlooked, have you experienced this? In what ways?
Yes, I have, it’s perplexing for sure. It’s weird because I’m very self-analytical, so it can be a real mind fuck. I try to keep my head down, mind my business and remind myself that I’m young, fresh, and new. Maybe people don’t know who I am or I haven’t “proven” myself, or whatever. But God willing, I’ll be off to the races soon, but till then I’m alright with a slow burn, taking my time letting the world turn. I’d rather grow gradually at my control before I have a practice that’s too overwhelming. I’ve created some beautiful art and I’m optimistic for the future, because I know I have taste and talent. However, I could use and appreciate more support, I’m not sure what more I have to do to receive that, though. Nor do I think I’m doing anything wrong that would create a lack of support either. Often I think to myself, “Am I going to have to have a white person give me the OK? Before niggas start fucking with me?” The answer is, probably.
Who is a peer that you are inspired by?
I’d really want to collaborate with Clifford Prince King, Justin French, and Raisa Flowers. Ian Isiah and Marz Lovejoy’s presence in the world gives me hope to keep going. I’m quite lucky to know these artists. Grace Wales Bonner gave me an inspiring pep talk once at dinner and I’ll never not be inspired by that conversation. And Shikeith is my fairy godfather of art, he’s always there to talk to me whenever I’m feeling unsure. My god touch all their hearts!
Who is someone from history that you are constantly inspired by?
Malcolm X, Gucci Mane and Marie Antoinette.
When do you most feel seen?
When Black gay men tell me how they feel about my work, whether good or bad. When I see that Big Cartel “New Order Received” e-mail. When I listen to “Lens” by Frank Ocean, but the one with Travis Scott. Also, when I look at Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s canvas work. Lastly, this interview, I feel extremely seen and heard, thank you.
What are some projects/events we can look forward to?
I’m currently manifesting an art show that will double as a trunk show. I have new ThugPop Objects dropping at the end of summer. I’m also inspired to make a ThugPop Zine. I’m a Capricorn, so I never stop working. I’m really excited about the future. ThugPop for everyone.
You can view and support more of ThugPop’s work here.
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